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Teams and riders are hopeful as UCI launches Women’s WorldTour reforms

How will the UCI reforms to women's WorldTeam benefits and salary affect the 2020 season? Teams and riders are hopeful for greater exposure, even if the reforms aren't dramatically changing the status quo.

When the UCI announced its new two-tier structure for women’s teams in 2020, the governing body also revealed that the top-tier WorldTeams would also see significant reforms to salary and benefits. VeloNews reached out to riders and team directors to get their perspectives on the new reforms.

The sources we spoke to applaud the UCI for the creation of the WorldTeam structure, however they agreed that the new reforms have not dramatically changed the way in which many top women’s teams already function.

“I think Mitchelton-SCOTT has been developing in this direction for years,” said team director Martin Vestby. “The women’s team has worked more and more together with the men’s team, and in that way the riders have most of the requirements needed for the 2020 reform already.”

Currently, the UCI minimum salary for women’s WorldTeam riders is €15,000, and it will increase to €20,000 in 2021, €27,500 in 2022, and from 2023 onward will be the same as the minimum for existing men’s UCI Professional Continental Teams. Men’s WorldTour riders are currently entitled to a minimum salary of €38,115, and Professional Continental riders earn a minimum of €30,855 per year.

The directors and riders we spoke to said their respective teams were already hitting the salary amounts before the rules took shape. In addition to the minimum salary requirement, WorldTeams must provide with sick and maternity leave, as well as 30 days of holiday and no more than 75 days of racing a year.

Canyon-SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell said that she also already felt well-supported by her team in terms of salary, insurance, and expenses. The most notable change for 2020, she said, was the inclusion of maternity leave.

“This could potentially prolong the careers of some of the riders who may want to start a family but in the past would have had to stop their career,” she said. “Having this security, knowing that it’s now supported, is a game changer for the sport and all teams.”

Like Vestby, Canyon-SRAM team director Ronny Lauke believes that his team, which is one of two stand-alone women’s WorldTeams, will not experience any significant changes given the reforms to salary and benefits.

“The support is the same as in previous years,” Lauke said. “The main differences happened in the background, on the administration side.”

Given the “business as usual” response to the UCI reforms, why did the teams step up to apply at all?

“This is our core activity: women’s cycling,” Lauke said. “From when we started Canyon-SRAM Racing we targeted to be one of the best teams; therefore, we had to make it work to be part of the World Tour.”

The rationale was similar for Trek-Segafredo, said director Ina Teutenberg.

“When Trek-Segafredo made the decision to start a women’s team, it was set up with a structure so that it could compete at the World Tour level, and it was a no-brainer that the team would apply for the license,” Teutenberg said. “I believe that since the genesis of this project there was the desire to be one of the first eight women’s World Tour teams.”

Absent from the list of eight WorldTeams is Boels-Dolmans, which was unable to show the required sponsorship commitment of four years. Nevertheless, the Dutch squad has one significant advantage over the WorldTeams: since Boels-Dolmans is inside the top-five on the UCI’s team rankings, it has guaranteed invites to all WorldTour races in 2020. The team can also compete in lower-tier events, while WorldTeams must compete in WorldTour and .1-level races.

Being able to attend fewer races this year was discouraging for the WorldTeam directors and riders; however, Cromwell hopes that it will lead to greater depth and tougher and more exciting racing in every Women’s WorldTour race. She also noted an unforeseen benefit of WorldTeams not being able to compete in the lower-tier .2 events.

“For those races, we may see new names come into the spotlight,” she said. “With riders on smaller teams having more opportunities to race without a stacked field, which could potentially create a better development pathway for women’s cycling.”

An ongoing issue for the Women’s WorldTour has been the lack of media exposure. Vestby recognizes the attempts by the UCI to give more structure to the Women’s WorldTour calendar as a parallel effort to also make the sport more accessible to the media.

“I think it’s important that women’s cycling is getting a structure using the same names as the men’s races so both media and the supporters can understand and recognize how women’s cycling is structured,” he said.

Cromwell said that the dearth of media coverage of Women’s WorldTour events is something that the UCI should continue to address. As a thirteen year veteran of the UCI circuit, Cromwell said that she’d witnessed “baby steps” from the governing body but that the desire for more exposure in the form of TV airtime and Internet livestreams is a recurring theme in the peloton.

“Many teams and riders do so much through their own social channels to help give exposure to women’s cycling,” she said. “But globally, it’s still hard to follow the races. The amount of fans and supporters that comment to me about the lack of overage tells me that more needs to be done.”

It will likely take years to see any major effects from the reforms, but they will certainly begin to chip away at the challenges that have plagued professional women cyclists for decades. With parity in the sport as an ultimate goal, team directors are thankful that the UCI has begun to back them up.

“On paper, they [the reforms] will allow women to make a living in professional cycling and concentrate fully on the sport, which in turn will translate into performance gains and lift and make the sport of cycling grow,” said Teutenberg. “Additionally, I believe we will benefit from the team coverage every World Tour race has to provide.”